Truth-telling. It’s hard to say for Quakers today if it matters the way it once did.
That first generation of Friends were honest. Brutally honest. About the crookedness of Church-as-Empire, about the empty strength of the empire itself. Those Quakers were shameless. They preached a God of justice and peace. A God who didn’t. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t tolerate a religion for show nor the vanity of power-schemers. They surrendered their lives to God, and in sweet surrender found themselves dynamically demonstrating the power of God’s Kingdom. On earth as it is in heaven. The early Friends prophesied, subverted society. Convicted by Love, they followed in her footsteps. She shook them, made them quake. And sometimes they danced. Polite society couldn’t understand and didn’t approve. That’s why so many Quakers ended up imprisoned, tortured – or dead.
How much hope is enough? I understand and experience hope to be “leaning into better.” Hope is trusting that as things change, good will come. When we are hopeful, we lean into things getting better, not worse.
Is hope a precious natural resource? Is there a limited amount of hope in the world that we need to carefully monitor? Or is hope a renewable energy, like the wind?
What if hope is sourced from a divine energy, limitless and eternal? Hope never runs out. The supply is unlimited.
We live in a time of a “scarcity culture” says social scientist Brene Brown. A culture of scarcity is where we live in fear of not having enough. If she’s right, then this mentality of scarcity is impacting our national supply of hope. We feel as if we are running low on hope. And too many of us are flat running out of it. Our hope gauge is on empty.
I know the statistics. Patterns of discrimination and oppression. Inequalities in education, employment, housing, law enforcement, criminal justice. But this year those data points came to life. For two months I volunteered in the emergency department at the Los Angeles County and USC Medical Center, and the facts I’d read about became a lot more than facts.
Every day at the hospital I met people of color who had been failed by social structures and support systems that I take for granted. Young men who were victims of gang violence. Families denied housing, who used the emergency department as a haven from the streets. People whose lack of access to primary care created preventable health emergencies.
White supremacy is the foundational organizing principle of American public life, and for centuries has held the distinction of being the most consistent animating force in our national history. This reality affects every social institution, certainly including our most visible Christian gatherings. In the Christian tradition, we see this problem in both "multiethnic churches” and in more progressive Emergent circles to the point where people of color are actually emotionally hesitant to participate in these communities, or are sidelined when they do. Although the structural racism embedded in these spaces—whiteness—is an enormous stumbling block, relatively simple changes can be put into motion to make it less lethal at your progressive Christian gathering.
Christians who are white seem to often get into conversations about “Christian” being the only identity/label that matters. They wax poetic about how this is core to their faith and often weaponize this idea against people of color, and especially against LGBTQ people.
The problem I have with this is that it’s a narrative that only works for the dominant group in a society. Dominant or majority groups have the ease of society being mostly if not entirely centered on them. As such, they don’t have opinions or labels forced on them by an outside group because no one else has the power to do that effectively. Yes, people can call you names, but power is being able to create policy or economic disadvantage for a group that you don’t belong to.
"You go home and you sleep well at night in your bed and you sit here in suits and talk about these things, but what are we going to do? I’ve been a refugee for 5 years. No more. What if I was your daughter? What if I was your family? What then? There is no mercy for people without legal status. There is no home for refugees.”
Today I attended the first day of my first conference for refugee week.
Check in for the conference began at 9am. I went to bed at midnight last night. I woke up at 6am. Jet lag. Oh well. It meant I had time to get coffee before the conference and made me more at ease knowing I had time to get lost.
Jesus said that loving your neighbor is the greatest commandment next to loving God. Even more, Jesus did it. He loved people without regard for his reputation, safety, popularity, or even his life. The rabbi who defended adulteresses and prostitutes. The holy man who touched lepers. The king who was abandoned to torture and a humiliating public death.
We speak of his suffering in reverent tones because that's how he atoned for our sins. That's the theological side of the story. But the human side of the story is that his sufferings came as a direct result of loving the despised and unwanted. The hatred, the persecution and the outrage were the result of Jesus healing a withered man's hand on the Sabbath and speaking up for a woman who wiped his feet with her hair (not to mention all the other scandals). So when Jesus commands us to love as he loved and also commands us to suffer as he suffered, he is describing two sides of the same coin. You cannot love the way he loved and not suffer the kinds of consequences he suffered.
Before coming out, I thought that reactions from my loved ones would be black and white. It's easy to expect immediate acceptance or immediate abandonment—what I wasn't ready for were the awkward tense moments.
I wasn't ready for feeling like it's inappropriate to discuss my plans for the summer as I will be taking part in the city's Pride festival as a volunteer, attending a Gay Christian Retreat on the mainland and most likely heading to Pride in Vancouver to meet up with some friends.
I wasn't ready to feel uncomfortable about asking my straight Christian friends to come with me to some of these things because I'm nervous about going alone, and I certainly wasn't ready to feel childish for asking my LGBT friends who don't profess Jesus if they're going.
Over the years, I have often heard the statement, "Racism hurts everyone."
I've been confused by that, since I myself am not a person of color and I didn't see how I was being hurt.
In 2010 and 2011, I attended the annual national White Privilege Conference and that statement--Racism hurts everyone--has worked on me. But it wasn't until the intersection of two things coming together that my heart and spirit opened to that Truth.
First, a local Quaker friend pointed me to the words of Philadelphia Friend Arlene Kelly:
We are not a homogenous group seeking to become more diverse; we are an incomplete organization seeking to become more whole. --Friends Journal, October 2010
A friend posted on Twitter the other day: “the person that relies on culture for interpretation of the Bible will never be stable.” His tweet raised for me a few larger questions that I have been thinking about recently while studying here in Barranquilla, Colombia.
As James Cone has posited, the awful violence of the cross is simply more viscerally communicated by witnessing a lynched black body than it could ever be by words from someone “sitting up in some mansion somewhere.” In the same vein, my friend Cláudio Carvalhaes has described how we will write theology very differently depending on whether we’re writing about God from a calm seminary office or from a cantankerous, clamoring refugee camp. In climates of immediacy, our theologizing necessarily takes on a sharper, more tenacious tone.
In the Old City of Jerusalem, the streets are too narrow for cars. The streets stay narrow so they can squeeze through stone archways. Neighbors who live across the street from each other can look up and see the awnings above their doorways almost touch. Sometimes, a narrow street will become a staircase. The stone steps have probably forgotten most of what they once knew about right angles.
On a rainy day in November, I went for a walk down these ancient streets. The rain revealed shallow gutters in the street, and downspouts that I’d never noticed on sunnier days.
It's essentially a multi-day road trip with stops scheduled intermittently so we can keep our brains on overdrive and stretch our legs. The point of Sankofa is to reconsider how we talk and process race. It's a conversation that is ongoing, and the trip helps it get started. Each year looks different depending on the group of students who participate. Last year we stopped on a plantation, at the location of the Mike Brown Shooting, and at an old Underground Railroad house. Historically the trip has been focused on white-on-black racism, as that narrative is hardly taught and greatly misunderstood. But the trip last year boasted other minorities as well. Students of non-black ethnic backgrounds, of alternative sexual orientation, of non-evangelical religions, and of the mental health community all started raising their voices by the second day saying, "What about my pain?" On Sankofa I learned that when we become afraid of scarcity, things get ugly.
Japanese immigrants are living in global diaspora – from the Andes to Los Angeles, from Sao Paulo to Seoul, Nikkei nomads (referring to people of Japanese origin) have settled into a vast constellation of countries in the 150 or so years since Japanese isolationismwas officially quashed.
One of the many beautiful countries into which Japanese expatriates have assimilated – while boasting a great diversity of thought and unique culinary delicacies – is also internationally known for its barbaric penal systems and the sky-high rates at which it imprisons more people than any other society in history...
This morning, I went to a tax preparer to amend my tax return, a routine task for this company, but all did not go as expected. My preparer, James, was late. We met at an office branch he seldom uses, which we discovered has malfunctioning heat, and systems which had not been updated to the new software. So while we waited for technical assistance, we talked.
I told him I’m a youth pastor and a barista at a local coffee shop. James was raised Southern Baptist, went to Christian private schools, and graduated from a bible college. After graduating...
“I came near a very great hill, called Pendle Hill, and I was moved of the Lord to go up to the top of it; which I did with difficulty, it was so very steep and high. When I was come to the top, I saw the sea bordering upon Lancashire. From the top of this hill the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered.”
I wonder what Fox might have seen. How vast was this group of people? What kinds of people were there? And if today, the Quaker diaspora were to gather with George Fox there as witness, would we confirm his vision?